Fort Polk Master Sergeant files suit against Biden Administration over denial of religious exemption for Army vaccine mandate

Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 9:23 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (KALB) - On Monday, Dec. 19, the Pelican Center for Justice filed suit against the Biden Administration in the Western District of Louisiana. The suit was filed on behalf of Master Sergeant Robert W. Galey, Jr. and seeks an injunction against the administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the United States Army.

For 16 years, Galey has served in the United States Army. He has fought in combat zones overseas on eight different deployments and led soldiers as first sergeant at Fort Polk at the Joint Readiness Training Center. That is where he remains today, but with a demotion, which is just one of the repercussions he said he has experienced since refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to his religious beliefs. The vaccine mandate was issued by President Joe Biden for all military service members on July 29, 2021.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these service members have faced serious issues with promotion, having their orders canceled. Really career damaging and career crush actions,” said James Baehr, Special Counsel at the Pelican Institute.

For Galey, as a Christian, it is his belief that the COVID-19 vaccine is both immoral and repugnant to God due to the way it is produced. A U.S. Army chaplain and Galey’s immediate commander both recognized his belief to be sincerely held, but a different commander disagreed, recommending the disapproval of Galey’s request and saying he had full confidence that Galey’s request was “motivated by misinformation and not based on beliefs.”

“It’s important that the belief be sincerely held, but the government is not supposed to be in the business of saying, ‘Oh, that’s a reason to believe, and that’s not a reason to believe.’ Right?” said Baehr. “We don’t want a government that’s judging people’s religious beliefs.”

After several denials and appeals for more than a year, Galey was informed on December 15 of this year that his commanding general had decided to move forward with a “General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand,” known as a GOMOR, as well as separation procedures, which the lawsuit describes as “career-damaging” and typically used for serious, criminal offenses.

“We just think that the administration has the wrong approach and is viewing a respectful decision not to take this vaccine as some sort of criminal undertaking,” Baehr said. “That’s how they’re treating these people, as criminals, instead of folks trying to exercise their religious liberty.”

The GOMOR comes despite Congress’s recent passage of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which includes provisions for rescinding vaccine mandates for military service members.

“The elimination of unvaccinated persons from our recruitment pool has dramatically decreased our recruitment measures across the board and all of our branches of the armed services,” said Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson. “The top leaders in the Pentagon acknowledge that, but for some reason, they would not reverse course.”

“Unfortunately, the NDAA is not helping Master Sergeant Galey,” said Baehr. “Our concern is it’s not going to help others. But, we’re gonna continue to fight in federal court because the Constitution is still there, no matter what the NDAA says.”

Even if the NDAA were to benefit Galey, litigation will move forward because, for Galey, the damage to his record and career has already been done. His discharge from the Army will include not only the loss of his job but also his retirement benefits, including pension and medical care for his family.

This is the second case in which the Pelican Center for Justice has represented a servicemember over the vaccine mandate.

Click here for the full suit in Galey’s case.

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